We have been having a beautiful rainy Spring here in SW Idaho. The garden is doing well. Here are some progress shots for the record. Some things need thinning, but all of them are planted according to Dick Raymond’s wide-row method. This method spaces plants closer together in a wide row which makes better use of space, produces an exponentially greater harvest per row-foot, and uses growing plants as “living mulch” to help control weeds because they grow together and block light underneath them.
The newer peas did well. The older peas I planted (2013 seeds) did not – hence the patchiness there. Lesson: use new pea seeds even if you keep your seeds in the freezer.
We have been enjoying radishes and bags of delicious fresh spinach.
These blow-by-blow gardening posts will be boring if you aren’t into this sort of thing. I’m posting these mostly for myself so I can look back later and see progress. I’m also going to type in some basic instructions along the way in case someone web searching a gardening topic might be helped by some tips or how-tos.
We’ve had a wet spring here in Southwestern Idaho so far with quite a bit of drenching rain. But in between rains, I was able to till up a raised bed and plant some spinach, radishes, and carrots in it. I was also able to transplant some early broccoli, lettuce, and cabbage seedlings. Finally, I decided to buy and plant one of those rhubarb roots in a box that you get at the hardware store. They’re dry as a bone but after planting and watering, I can see a lively little crimson bud starting to grow already! I want at least 2 more rhubarb plants but I’m going to buy potted plants from the seed store for those.
I love spinach. This raised bed has 3 varieties: Avon, Space, and Bloomingsdale. I plant mass quantities because any extra we don’t use for salads can be steamed and frozen. Since spinach really cooks down, it doesn’t hurt to have bags and bags of it. And we use that frozen spinach a lot for lasagna and other dishes. I also planted 3 varieties of radishes: Early Scarlet, Pink Beauty, and a random gift-packet one called Crunchy King. It’s time to succession-plant a few more of those already, but we don’t eat a ton of radish, so I’m going easy there. Finally, for carrots I planted Nantes Coreless and another one called Tendersweet. Berlin Seeds says Tendersweet is their No. 1 seller. We’ve never tried it. I’m saving my Berlin variety for a fall planting as I am told they are good keepers. Carrots are something I will succession-plant all season in these raised beds. We love them and they keep well. Storing them in a refrigerator crisper they will last 6 months. Storing them in a large cooler full of peat moss in the garage they will last all winter and beyond.
In between rain showers, I was able to set out the broccoli, lettuce and cabbage transplants you see above. With wind after rain, it’s time to cultivate already and break up that upper wind-dried crust of soil.
I planted a few varieties of lettuce: buttercrunch, romaine, ithaca (head), igloo (head), and a leaf lettuce called Green Ice. The broccoli is always Coronado Crown Hybrid. I tried a local variety and it didn’t perform as well. The cabbage is Copenhagen Early Market but I’ll be trying some Late Flat Dutch later for Fall as well. Like Spinach, we can always find something to do with any extra cabbage such as fresh fermented and canned sauerkraut or kim chi.
The little dry rhubarb root-in-a-box that I bought at the hardware store is showing signs of life already after only being planted a few days ago.
Its time to transplant these pepper seedlings. Don’t ask me where I am going to find room for 72 pepper plants under lights, but that’s how many there will be. I planted Ace Bell, Yellow Belle II, Anaheim, Carmen, Garden Salsa, Poblano, Inferno, Jalapeño, Serrano, Super Chili, and Sweet Banana. All of them will do well in the hot summer here.
I have more broccoli, more onions, and some eggplant (just started) under lights yet.
This year I have two varieties of Red Onions started: Redwing, and Red Wethersfield.
These sweet onions and leeks are ready to transplant out this weekend.
We decided to put in a few root crowns of asparagus this year. I started with a dozen but I think we could use a dozen more.
I was losing my light but got it done before it was too dark.
The local garden store had the Mary Washington variety which is fine with me.
Growing asparagus from root crowns is faster to harvest than growing them from seed. Still, it’s the 3rd year before you can harvest. I have some more work to do back there tilling around the beds and mulching. It will help to have longer evenings.
To plant asparagus, dig a trench 12-18 inches deep and about 20 inches wide. Add as much as 6″ of compost or manure to the trench and a dusting of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Mix or till this together with some soil from the trench and make mounds about 1 foot apart in the bottom of the trench. Drape the root crowns over the crowns and fill the trench to cover the roots with about 2 inches of soil. The tops of the roots should be about 4 inches below the surface. As the asparagus grows, add more dirt until the trench is full to provide support.
Don’t harvest the first year at all. Water well and let the spears grow ferns and feed the root crowns all year. Mulch to control weeds and fertilize at least once in the spring. Asparagus is a heavy feeder. You can also add compost to the surface to keep the soil rich. Next year, cut the ferns down in Spring before new growth starts. Harvest only lightly the second year, allowing most of the spears to grow into ferns. The third year harvest until the weather warms and spears begin to get thinner, then let them go to ferns.
Here in Idaho, we’re now only 7 weeks away from average last frost (about May 10) and about 10 weeks away from June 1st which is the safest time to set out heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. I know that by planting now, my peppers will be blooming vigorously in their pots by June 1, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I’m anticipating a warmer year this year so I’m hoping to be able to set these out a little before June 1.
Peppers germinate best at 80 degrees so I use a reptile warming mat under my seed tray to simulate Mexican conditions here in March and control it with a thermostat.
The light you see is coming from the shelf above which has other seedlings on it. It isn’t needed for germination. Here is a close-up of the thermostat I use below. You can get these on Amazon or maybe at your favorite gardening store.
You can see the little wire running into the middle of the seed tray in this picture below. That’s the temperature sensor.
I seeded some lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, leeks and onions a while back and they’re all doing great so far. I hope we have a cool spring for their sakes.
I can tell right now I’m going to need more lights, more shelving, and more storage for all the veggies we’re going to freeze, can, ferment, juice, preserve, dehydrate, and otherwise store and enjoy this year (Lord willing) – and give away.
Gardening is such a joy. It’s relaxing even though it requires some strenuous labor, and it’s endlessly fascinating how God makes it all work. It makes me think of the creation story because the Bible says God made man and placed him in a garden (Gen. 2:8). Apparently, we were quite literally made to do this. It also reminds me of all sorts of other Bible truths, such as the law of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7) and the future resurrection and transformation of all believers who will receive new immortal heavenly bodies (1 Cor. 15). I have time to think about these things while I’m gardening. It also reminds me of the tragedy of sin when the weeds come up, diseases appear, pests devour, and adverse weather cause failures (Gen. 3).
Late February is time to start some leek and onion seeds indoors. Here in Southwest Idaho, we’re 11 weeks from the average last frost date of May 10th. It’s on the early side for seeding my sweet onions, but this has been a warm winter and I’m anticipating being able to do a lot of earlier gardening this year.
My favorite reference book says onion seeds should be seeded 10-12 weeks before the last frost date so they have time to develop a strong root system, or 8-10 weeks prior if you have heavy clay soil. So I’m seeding a batch now at 11 weeks, and I will do more later since we do have heavier clay soil here.
I had a stack of foil trays from the dollar store handy so I used those this time. I poked holes in the bottom so they can drain. I did about 15 seeds per tray so that gives me 60 Candy Onions, 30 Walla Wallas, and 15 Leeks (American Flag variety). The Leeks take the whole season and come on basically all at once. We don’t use a ton of them so 15 will be plenty.
I get almost all of my seeds from Berlin Seeds in Ohio via mail order. They don’t have a website (they’re Amish Mennonite) but their information can be found here. They offer 100% non-GMO seeds at reasonable prices and have most of the varieties that I am looking for.
I have a metal rack of shelves with my growing lights setup on it. These are just regular flourescent bulbs on a timer. Regular bulbs work well for veggies. You may need special grow lights for flowers or other types of plants. I cover the seeds with plastic wrap or with the clear lid that comes with the seed trays from the store to keep moisture in until seeds sprout. That way I don’t have to water them again until they’re up.
My second favorite gardening book comes with a handy form page for keeping track of plantings. After seeding, I write down the type and variety, number of seeds, and the seeding date. I also keep track of when I set them out. It’s helpful to track harvest dates to so you can time things better next year. For these sweet onions planted around the last frost date, I know I will be harvesting them (Lord willing) this summer in July some time. So I don’t have to track the harvest date precisely. But some onions will be for winter storage, for example. I’m not planting those yet, but when I do I’ll keep track of when they’re done so I can make sure I time the harvest for right around the cool-down time before the first frost.